First Edition of “The Punahou Letter” (1912)

Object submitted by Kikilia Fordham ’82
Story by Punahou Communications Staff

In 1912, Punahou’s Alumni Association published its first regular newspaper, entitled “The Punahou Letter.” Its purpose was to involve alumni more actively in the life of the school by supporting Punahou’s needs. The first issue stated that, “The Letter hopes to give such a picture of the work, plans and hopes of the school as will stir enthusiasm of old students and friends in what has been accomplished and what is being planned, and rally them to her service in the future in a way that the past has never known.”

Punahou has one of the strongest alumni networks in the state, if not the country, often rivaling people’s university alma maters in loyalty and lifelong friends. The Punahou Alumni Association has played a vital role in supporting the school throughout the years, thanks to its culture of volunteerism, fundraising and multigenerational family connections. While the founding of the alumni association as an independent nonprofit entity dates to 1906, activities of an organized nature go back over 150 years, spanning two World Wars, numerous campus transformations and the growth of the Punahou Alumni Association into a network of national and global reach with over 30,000 members today.

Punahou’s first alumni association was formed in 1864 as the result of a gathering of students and alumni that year to replace a “public soiree.” The Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society reported that, “A motion was made and adopted to form an Alumni Association to meet once a year, for the purpose of strengthening the bonds of school companionship.”

The association’s first official meeting was deferred until 1866 to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the School’s founding, and former students, trustees and donors to the School’s endowment were invited to Old School Hall for the celebration, which was attended by about 150 people (290 students attended Punahou during its first 25 years). After a lull in activities, the organization was temporarily revived in 1899 with an alumni invitation to an address given by President Smith at the beginning of his term. The dedication of the Bingham Tablet in 1905 galvanized a significant number of the older graduates, many of whom took an interest in new plans for the school under the leadership of President Arthur Floyd Griffiths.

That year, a call was sent out to all alumni, and the 300 who responded agreed to form an active organization. At this meeting and for three years after, a Fruit Festival was a feature of alumni gatherings, inviting graduates to share their best local fruit – a distant echo of the popular produce booth run by the Punahou O-Men at Carnival today.

A constitution for the new Alumni Association was adopted in 1906, during the second annual commencement reunion. At this time, Alumni Day was established as a regular feature of the festivities that formed Commencement Week at the end of each year. The association’s first significant undertaking was the physical improvement of the area around Ka Punahou, which was completed in 1909 when the organization held its annual meeting under a brand new pergola that had been erected with alumni donations.

In 1913, the association played an important role in saving Old School Hall from demolition, pledging to raise the funds for restoring the building, which they referred to, for the first time, as Old School Hall. In 1916, as part of the School’s 75th anniversary celebrations, the association made a large contribution to the School’s endowment and alumni participated heavily in the elaborate historical pageant on Alexander Field and in Punahou Day, which featured sports, games and speeches. That year, the Oahu College Directory was published, listing those who had been part of the school since 1841: 66 officers, 303 teachers and 4,348 students, more than three times the number listed 25 years earlier.

After this Jubilee Year, the group took a recess and no meetings were held until 1922, when a dozen enthusiasts led by Laurence M. Judd (1905) reinstituted Alumni Day, with games and speeches. The presidency of the Alumni Association became a regular position and the annual Alumni Day featured athletic events, a business meeting, officer elections and a report on the school.

The next couple of years were devoted to fundraising for Armstrong Hall, a boys’ athletic facility named in honor of General Samuel Chapman Armstrong. The building was dedicated at Alumni Day in 1925.

In 1926, due to rising costs and the pressure of salary increases, a general fundraising appeal was issued to alumni and friends. Offices were set up in the basement of Cooke Library (now Cooke Hall) and the “Punahou Alumni Bulletin” was launched to support the plan, to “keep the alumni of Punahou informed as to what the school is doing to the end that the graduates of the school may be a greater factor in carrying on its work.” Its first issue was dedicated significantly to the fundraising drive. “Here is your opportunity to express in a small way your gratitude to Punahou,” read the front-page. A plea for Class Notes was also included, foreshadowing the Class Notes still enjoyed by generations of alumni in the Punahou Bulletin today. Response to the fundraising appeal was positive and a number of institutional priorities – from the retirement system to endowed scholarships to gifts for campus facilities – were made possible thanks to help from alumni supporters.

That same year, the first Alumni Lu‘au was held between Dole and Castle halls, although circumstances required that the event be converted into a memorial for Judge Sanford B. Dole, who had recently passed away.

During the 1930s, the Lu‘au drew increasing numbers. It was established as an annual tradition in 1937, and tickets were sold at the Cooke Trust Company on Fort Street for $1.00 with surplus funds dedicated to the alumni scholarship fund. By 1940, over 1200 people were attending the event, which included members of the graduating class as guests of the Alumni Association.

The 1935 Alumni Directory listed 191 officers, 839 teachers and 8,355 students associated with Punahou since 1841. In 1936 the Punahou Alumni Bulletin became a monthly publication with the goal of keeping all dues-paying members informed about the life of the School.

In 1938, the Association introduced a cash award for two graduating Punahou seniors who demonstrated the highest scholarship standard – an award still given today.

For Punahou’s Centennial celebrations, the Alumni Association played an important role in organizing the weeklong festivities on campus, with Trustee Walter F. Dillingham (1893) as chairman and a team of 35 alumni heading different sub-committees. One of the first events was a “Come Back to Campus Party” on November 2, 1940. Preceding the Roosevelt vs. Punahou football game, alumni were invited to a campus Open House with a picnic supper and pre-game rally. In January 1941, the Chinese Alumni Association held a large celebration at Lau Yee Chai restaurant. Musical performances, a centennial exhibit at the Academy of Arts and an elaborate pageant on Alexander Field with a cast of over 1,000 were among the many other events organized to celebrate Punahou’s centennial. That year, the Alumni Association established the Living Endowment as an ongoing way to build the financial strength of the school.

Only months later, WWII broke out, disrupting life in Hawai‘i and initiating a period of emergency and exile from the Punahou campus that lasted four years. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which had taken over campus during the war, allowed the 1943 reunion to be held on campus after a one-year hiatus.

In 1945, the School returned to its physical home under the new leadership of President John Fox. A Campus Open House was hosted for alumni, parents and friends, with the Alumni Association organizing its annual meeting to coincide with the campus visit and dinner.

The ensuing two decades saw unprecedented building and curriculum development and the Alumni Association continued to generate invaluable support for Punahou. Post-war fundraising was galvanized by alumni contributions to the Centennial and War Memorial drives, which significantly altered the campus and established its appearance throughout the second half of the 20th century. Following the dedication of the new Memorial Center, the 1953 Alumni Lu‘au was held indoors for the first time, in the newly inaugurated Dole Hall.

The inaugural issue of the Punahou Bulletin (September 1953) combined the Punahou Alumni Bulletin and the Lokahian, which had been for many years the parent news monthly. It has since grown from its initial circulation of 7,500 to over 32,000 recipients today – the vast majority of them alumni.

In 1954 the Alumni Association organized Weekly Adult Nights on campus, inviting alumni, parents and faculty to participate in hobbies and activities and access the James B. Castle Shop, gym and pool. Adults could work in the metal or wood shop, use a potter’s wheel, play volleyball or swim. With faculty instructors and an alumni chair, the evenings attracted 50 to 60 people.

That year, the first “O” in Life Award was awarded to Aileen Gibb Forrest ’15, secretary to the president of Punahou. The Alumni Association selected the well-known alumna for this award symbolizing the spirit of Punahou, as “one who best exemplifies Punahou’s traditions, spirit and ideals.”

In 1955, the Alumni Lu‘au returned to Alexander Field and the Alumni Scholarship Fund supplied scholarship aid totaling $2,140 to 19 children of alumni families. The fund was supported by revenues from the Jams & Jellies and plant alumni booths at Carnival, and from Alumni Association dues.

In 1958, President Fox embarked on a national tour, attending conferences, hiring teachers and gathering alumni. Although there had been informal gatherings of Punahou alumni on the U.S. continent since the 19th century, this was the largest to-date, with over 100 alumni attending a San Francisco reunion at the Sheraton Palace Hotel, foreshadowing a tradition of Punahou-supported alumni gatherings outside Hawai‘i.

In the late 1950s, the Alumni Association’s agenda included a discussion with Dr. Fox and the Admissions Office about “thoughtful consideration of a definition of an alumnus for admissions priority purposes” and the association’s three flagship annual projects: Carnival, fundraising for the Living Endowment and the Lu‘au.

In 1960, 84 alumni led their classes for the year’s fundraising appeal, significantly boosting the Living Endowment. The following year, the Lu‘au committee built a permanent, 10-pig imu on Alexander Field, which was enlarged and transferred a short distance when Alexander Field underwent an expansion and renewal project in 2013.

In 1963, the Alumni Association approved a new set of bylaws “to create more interest in the Alumni Association, to permit more alumni to contribute their talents and join in the fun of the work of the organization.” It also became formally known as the Punahou Alumni Association (PAA). The Class Agent concept, successfully employed to support the Living Endowment fundraising drive, was extended to fulfill alumni roles in Carnival and Lu‘au. At that year’s Lu‘au, all committee heads and workers were from the 24th reunion class of 1939. Additionally, a member of the 29th reunion class was named the alumni coordinator for Carnival, with workers recruited from the 9th, 19th, 24th, 29th and 39th year classes.

The School’s 125th Anniversary weekend in 1966 included an Alumni Campus Day and Anniversary Dinner, with a Campus Open House, art shows and band concert offering additional reasons for alumni to return to campus. The anniversary committee made a special invitation to alumni artists and musicians, and the resulting historical exhibit coordinated by the Punahou archivist is a tradition that continues to this day as part of Alumni Week.

In 1968 the PAA established an Alumni Scholarship Loan Fund, aimed at helping alumni parents meet tuition bills. That same year, Dr. Roderick F. McPhee was named the 15th president of Punahou, and he enjoyed a well-attended alumni welcome in Hilo in the fall.

After four years in Dole Hall, the Alumni Lu‘au returned to its iconic outdoor tent in 1971, and the tradition of hosting the graduating class was restored. That fall, President McPhee made a sweeping 19-stop tour of the U.S. continent, gathering Punahou alumni from Oregon to Massachusetts, Chicago to California.

To celebrate the nation’s bicentennial in 1976, the PAA initiated a series of history-inspired projects. A new alumni directory was published, reporting 14,000 living alumni. Alumni quilters spent a year to complete the Punahou Bicentennial Quilt, which still hangs in Cooke Library. The PAA Oral Histories project was launched, documenting the living memories of alumni and former faculty and staff through recorded interviews.

That year, the PAA expanded to include neighbor island representatives on its board and announced an “Old School Award” to be given in recognition of service to Punahou.

During the late 1970s, West Coast alumni also enjoyed a series of reunions as Punahou’s popular Hui Le’a Nani choral group toured San Francisco, San Diego and Los Angeles. The PAA helped to sponsor the tour and California alumni hosted the students at several events that planted the seeds of PAA’s first regional branch outside Hawai‘i. In 1980, the first Alumni Association chapter was established in Southern California following the groundswell of interest produced by the Hui Le’a Nani singers and concert orchestra visits – it would later be formally named PAASC. In 1982, the Southern California chapter of the PAA threw its first lu‘au with 400 attendees; the event made the cover of the Los Angeles Times VIEW section.

On the occasion of the PAA’s 75th anniversary in 1981, the organization donated $10,000 to the PAA Scholarship Fund, bringing the fund’s book value to $30,000.

In 1983, the Kahala home of Dr. and Mrs. Lewis Williamson was gifted to Punahou and moved to the top of Rocky Hill, where it was designated the new Alumni House and furnished with help from PAA members.

Alumni get-togethers also continued across the mainland. The Southern California Association held their annual lu‘au, Texas alumni gathered for hula and tennis, while Boston alumni met for brunch. The first annual PAA Golf Tournament was held in 1989 at Leilehua Golf Club. That year, the Bulletin promoted alumni participation in Carnival with the headline: “The Class that Makes Malasadas Together has Fun!” establishing a lasting tradition of alumni volunteerism at Carnival.

Punahou’s sesquicentennial anniversary in 1990 – 1991 was celebrated with a yearlong series of events. PAA focused its efforts on completing a number of new oral histories, a new Alumni Directory (listing over 32,000 alumni) and sponsoring the publication of a commemorative coffee-table book, “The History and Promise of a School of the Islands.” In September, the PAA sponsored a production of “The Conversion of Ka’ahumanu,” a play by Victoria Kneubuhl ’67, in Dillingham Hall. The major production of the year for alumni was the “Night of 150 Stars,” an alumni variety show with songs, music and entertainment held at the Waikiki Shell the night before Alumni Lu’au.

The Lu’au itself, held on Alexander Field, required the largest tent that Kane Fernandez ’54 could provide – 328 feet long – to hold approximately 3,000 attendees.

In 1994, James K. Scott ’70 becomes the first alumnus named President of Punahou since William DeWitt Alexander in 1864. Musically-inclined alumni gathered informally to sing for Rod McPhee’s retirement and Jim Scott’s arrival – they continued singing together under the name of The Punahou Alumni Glee Club, which performs at School and alumni events today.

In 2001, a new Alumni Directory was published recognizing 38,000 men and women educated at Punahou.

In 2006, PAA celebrated its 100th anniversary with a Centennial Golf Tournament and Celebration gathering past winners of the Old School, “O” in Life, Judd and Armstrong awards and former PAA presidents. Two new Old School Awards and a Judd Award recipient were named as PAA moved into its second century.

The past decade has witnessed a consolidation of the PAA’s legal structure and the establishment of a thriving international network of regional chapters. Building on the early, informal successes in Los Angeles and Boston, alumni chapters were formalized for: PAASC (Southern California), PAAMA (Mid-Atlantic) PAAJP (Japan) PAANY (New York and Tri-State area), PAANW (Northwest), PAANE (Northeast) and PAANC (Northern California). Additional chapters continue to form as alumni around the world embrace Punahou’s role as a global community of lifelong learning. Each chapter has its own unique regional flavor, hosting gatherings and activities appropriate for its audience – a Carnival celebration complete with malasada making takes place each spring in New York, while a family picnic has become an annual tradition in the Washington D.C. area.

Alumni Week also incorporated new elements to bring classes together again, such as a Day of Service. The idea of service has spread to PAA regional chapters, many of whom sponsor volunteer activities for members to contribute to their local communities and while simultaneously reconnecting with the Punahou community.

To celebrate the 175th anniversary in 2016, a “Worldwide Toast” was organized to coincide with Alumni Lu‘au so that the occasion could be experienced by more of Punahou’s alumni, over 50 percent of whom live outside Hawai‘i. Anniversary year alumni celebrations were hosted by Punahou in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., New York, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Japan. In addition, Alumni Week featured a birthday celebration including “Punahou Presents,” a performing arts review and a series of music videos known as “Punahou Sessions” was produced by PAANY co-chair Allen Murabayashi ’90, featuring alumni musicians across the decades. An online Alumni Directory was created to supplement the print edition and make it easier for alumni to access and update information.

One hundred and ten years after the formal adoption of the Alumni Association constitution and 152 years after the first inspired plans “to strengthen the bonds of school companionship,” the Punahou Alumni Association continues to represent alumni commitment to their school.

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